Living life in Chiang Mai, Thailand can be pretty amazing. If you’re interested in Chiang Mai, we’ll discuss some of our favorite things in and around the city. We spent one month there so these things are definitely doable. But if you’re only planning a short visit, we’ll give some tips on some of the must do’s.
Landmarks in Chiang Mai Thailand
There are an abundance of temples located in Chiang Mai Thailand. You can barely walk 2 feet without ending up at one. As this was our first experience with Asia and having worn ourselves out on churches, we were enthralled by the temples. Some of our recommended temples to visit include:
Wat Lok Moli
Located on the north side of the Chang Phuak gate. This temple happened to be the first we encountered so holds a special place on this list. We still think it’s one of the coolest. With a beautifully ornate building, sculptures, and a large chedi in the back, it’s definitely a site to see.
Next, go across the street from Wat Lok Moli, this elegant temple features a beautiful sitting Buddha statue. The red and gold exterior give a fantastically bold contrast.
Wat Chiang Man
Wat Chiang Man is the oldest temple in Chiang Mai, Thailand, built in 1297 CE by King Mangrai. Undeniably beautiful, with its elephant chedi, it’s a must visit in Chiang Mai.
Wat Chedi Luang
Basically a must see in Chiang Mai. Wat Chedi Luang is a 14th century temple with an enormous chedi. However, to visit the temple costs a fee of around 40 baht per person.
Wat Jet Lin
While exploring temples, head to Wat Jet Lin for a bit of serenity. Though the temple itself is beautiful, it is the amazing bamboo bridge and serene atmosphere that make this place special. Also, for 10 baht you can feed the gigantic fish in the pond.
Wat Sri Suphan
Another must see in Chiang Mai Thailand. Also known as the Silver Temple, Wat Sri Suphan is an incredible site. Created in typical Lanna-style with aluminum and silver decoration. It’s amazing, especially when reflected in the sun. However, something to keep in mind is that women are not allowed to enter the temple itself. But can still marvel at the beauty outside.
Wat Jed Yot (or Wat Chet Yot)
Designed to resemble the Mahabodhi temple in India. Built in 1455 CE, the main site is the large structure with seven spires.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Finally, another must see is Doi Suthep. Located on top of Doi Suthep mountain, it boasts amazing views of Chiang Mai city. The large golden mount is incredible to see. The entrance fee is 50 baht for foreigners and 20 baht for Thais.
To get to Doi Suthep, you can either drive yourself, grab a songthaew, or hike. The cost of a songthaew depends on how many other people are going and your negotiating skills. But should be about 100 baht round trip per person, if they can fill up with 10 people.
To hike to Doi Suthep, you will follow the Monk’s Trail. We didn’t do this due to time and energy. But it takes you past Wat Pha Lat, which looks very interesting.
Visiting Doi Inthanon is another must for any Chiang Mai Thailand trip. Doi Inthanon National Park is famous for waterfalls, bird watching, view points, and remote villages. One of the highest points on Doi Inthanon are the twin pagodas. From here you can get amazing views and admire the structures. We recommend doing a day tour to see everything and get its history.
Entertainment in Chiang Mai
There are quite a few bars and places for all sorts of entertainment in Chiang Mai. However, as neither Sean or I are big drinkers, these will not be included. But since life in Chiang Mai Thailand is more than just bars, here are some entertainment we recommend:
Night Markets and Walking Streets
These are some of the best ways to find great food, cheap clothing, accessories, and souvenirs. The Chiang Mai University Night Market happens every night and is mostly full of locals. It’s a great place to go with tons of food and clothing options.
Probably the most famous market in Thailand, is Chiang Mai’s Sunday Night Walking Street. Located at the entrance via Tha Phae Gate, this market extends for several streets in every direction. You can find almost anything you are looking for, enjoy amazing street food, and listen to street performers. This is a must do while visiting Chiang Mai.
Another great market is the Wua Lai Walking Street, located by the south entrance to old town at the Chiang Mai gate. This walking street occurs on Saturday nights.
Take a Cooking Class
Another must do thing in Thailand is to take a cooking class. Learn how to make those delicious traditional Thai dishes. We took the class with Thai Secret Cooking School and were thrilled with our experience. May is an amazing teacher, host, and cook. You are picked up from your accommodations, taken to a local market to learn about the ingredients, and then from there you join May at her beautiful home for lots of cooking, eating, and fun.
Visit an Elephant Sanctuary
This is, undoubtedly, one of the most popular activities to do in Thailand. There are a lot of companies offering spending the day with elephants. It’s important to do research, make sure the company is ethical, and not engage in elephant riding. Sean and I went with Elephant Rescue Park as they had the best reviews online and did not do elephant riding. We were told by a local that Elephant Rescue Park was good, but he also recommended Chiang Mai Elephant Home.
Attend a Festival
Depending on what time of year you go, you may encounter one of Chiang Mai’s famous festivals.
Yi Peng Festival (also known as the lantern festival) occurs on the full moon on 12th month of the Thai lunar calendar, which is usually in November. This festival also typically coincides with the Loy Krathong Festival. This is a truly magical event! Recently, releasing lanterns was banned within Chiang Mai city. However, there are several places to see mass lantern releases – either paid or free.
For mass lantern releases, you can pay and book tickets via Asia Highlights. Or, to see the lantern release for free, check out Doi Saket Lakes.
Additionally, the Loy Krathong festival, which takes place all over Thailand, is called the festival of lights. Floating baskets, usually made from a slice of banana tree trunk, are lit with candles and floated down the river. Both the Yi Peng and Loy Krathong are amazing festivals and worth making the trip to Chiang Mai to see.
Another popular festival is the Songkran festival. Typically taking place in April, Songkran celebrates the Thai New Year. It’s essentially a 3 day water fight all over the city. We have not been in Chaing Mai for it, but heard a lot about it.
Cool Down in One of the Shopping Centers
Since life in Chiang Mai Thailand can get pretty hot, it’s great to find ways to keep cool. Chiang Mai has some wonderful malls to catch a break from the heat and do a little shopping. Our favorite was MAYA Mall, as it was right around the corner from where we stayed. It also has a great co-working space (Camp) on the top floor and a wonderful movie theater. Both the food courts (on the top floor and on the ground floor) have delicious and cheap food options.
Central Chiang Mai is also a great mall. Located about a 10-15 minute drive outside of the city. This mall is also where one of the immigration offices is located, if you’re looking to extend your visa. We would recommend going there – as soon as they open at 9 AM – as they are less crowded and the process was quick and easy.
I didn’t know where to put these last two items, so they’re going into a misc category. The first involves archery. I am a big fan of archery and try to seek out ranges wherever I go. Near Central Chiang Mai mall is a cafe/archery range called The Arrow Rest. If you’re looking for something different and fun to do, check them out. It costs about 220 Baht (~$6.25 USD) per person for 1 hour. They provide equipment and training if needed.
The next miscellaneous thing is if you’re interested in tattoos. Sean and I decided to get tattoos done while in Chiang Mai. Originally we were planning on going with a company that had incredible reviews online. However, we were recommended Shadow Tattoo who does amazing work for a fraction of the price. Incredibly talented and friendly local. He is a bit outside of Chiang Mai city (in Mae Rim), but worth the trip. If you’re looking to get a tattoo done, contact Shadow Tattoo by Mate.
Visit to Chiang Rai
Living life in Chiang Mai Thailand usually means that visiting Chiang Rai is a must. One of the cheapest ways to get there is to take the Green Bus. You can get the bus from Chiang Mai Bus Terminal 3. The cost was about 1045 Baht (around $28 USD) round trip for 2 people. We purchased our tickets online from the Green Bus website or you can buy them at the terminal.
Wat Rong Khun (White Temple)
Undoubtedly, one of the most popular attractions that draws people from all over to Chiang Rai is the White Temple. To get to the White Temple, you can go the local way and catch a blue bus at the main bus terminal. It will be marked with a White Temple sign and costs about 25 Baht (around $0.75 USD) per person. However, because the bus is the local public transportation, it does make stops and drops you off across the main roadway from the White Temple. To get back from the White Temple, you can flag down the bus near the police box. But we took a Grab taxi which cost about 200 Baht ($5.50 USD).
This place is a privately owned art exhibit, designed and constructed by Chalermchai Kositpipat. There is an entrance fee for foreigners of 100 Baht ($2.25 USD) per person. Since it is still a place of worship, visitors are required to dress appropriately. This means no short shorts or sleeveless tops.
This temple is an absolute highlight of Thailand and we fell in love with Kositpipat’s art. In addition to the White Temple, there is a Golden Temple and an art exhibit of Kositpipat’s art. There is a lot to see and you can spend several hours marveling at the artwork, architecture, and design.
Wat Rong Suea Ten (Blue Temple)
Another magical place to visit in Chiang Rai is the Blue Temple. The contrast of the rich sapphire blue with the golden accents make this place a sight to see. The temple is free and can be seen in around 20-30 minutes. To get to the Blue Temple, you can hire a scooter, taxi, or tuk-tuk. We used Grab taxi to get to and from which cost us about 120 Baht each way (~$1.20 USD).
Wat Huay Pla Kang
Wat Huay Pla Kang is about a 15 minute drive outside of Chiang Rai center. This temple sits on the mountainside of Chiang Rai and is known for its gigantic statue of Guanyin, also known as the Chinese Goddess of Mercy. You can take the elevator up the 25 story statue to look out the window for panoramic views of the surrounding area. It costs around 20 Baht (~$0.60 USD) per person to go up the elevator. Also located at this place is a towering 9 story wooden pagoda. To get to and from Wat Huay Pla Kang, we took Grab taxis that cost 142 Baht each way (~$4.00 USD).
Wat Phra Kaew
One of the oldest temples in Chiang Rai and one of the most important temples in Thai history. The Emerald Buddha was discovered in 1434 at Wat Phra Kaew after a lightening strike hit the chedi where it was kept. The original emerald Buddha is no longer in Chiang Rai, but instead at the Grand Palace in Bangkok. However, there is a replica located in this temple in Chiang Rai.
Places to Eat in Chiang Rai
Kalae Cafe Nangnon Coffee for delicious smoothie bowls and amazing french toast
The Hungry Nest Cafe for incredible Greek avocado toast
Heaven Burger for amazing burgers, salads, and chicken sandwiches
Chakrapad Chicken Rice for a cheap meal of yummy chicken with garlic rice.
PunPao Bakery for a large variety of steamed buns
Food and Drink in Chiang Mai Thailand
Life in Chiang Mai Thailand wouldn’t be complete without food. The city has some of our favorite foods of both Thai and non-Thai dishes. Here are some of our suggestions:
Fresh Break Cafe: a lovely family run business with both Western and Thai dishes. We had the best pancakes of our lives there!
Salsa Kitchen: as two people who spent 9 years in San Diego, California, we can honestly say this place has amazing Mexican food.
Khao Soi Maesai: Khao Soi is a must if you’re in Northern Thailand. Khao Soi Maesai is a highly recommended local place for delicious and cheap Khao Soi.
Healthy Junk: for just that – healthy junk…or food. They have a great range of delicious and healthy foods. We recommend the Greek salad, poke bowl, and air fried chicken.
Door Bell Ice Cream: delicious homemade ice cream that is self-serve. This is a very cool and unique concept. There are coolers located out front, you grab your chosen flavor, and then place the money in the box or pay via QR code (if you have a Thai bank account).
Smoothie Blue: for a wide range of breakfast and brunch options.
Lucky Tree Kafe: small cafe off the main street that had delicious Massaman curry.
Pad Thai 5 Rod: located near China Town in Chiang Mai. Local and delicious Pad Thai.
A HAN JIN Chinese Food: this place was located in the apartment complex we stayed, Hillside Plaza & Condotel 4. It is a highly rated, traditional Chinese food restaurant with good and cheap food.
Have you been to Chiang Mai before? If so, what are some of your recommendations? Let us known in the comments. For more on our travels, check us out here.